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The legend of BS Yediyurappa: The many ironies, setbacks, struggles and successes

Seemingly, BS Yediyurappa did the impossible. Bring BJP to power in a southern state.

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

Legend has it that when the king sent his three spoiled sons to the care of rishis in order to educate them about affairs of state, the learned sages decided to teach the young princes the path of dharma by telling them mythical stories about the forest. These tales and the wisdom contained in them came to be known as the Panchatantra.

The stories of politicians are no less than the Panchatantra, with each and every character teaching a lesson of its own. Each flawed and legendary in their own way, showing the twists, the ironies, the struggles and the lessons that we learn from life.

The most straightforward lesson is from Rahul Gandhi, the young prince who had everything given to him on a platter but could not make anything work. There are Vajpayee and Advani and the legend of NDA 1, of hard work going unrewarded and being too old to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Between the two men, a story of friendship and sacrifice. There’s Dr MMS, the man who was always at the right place at the right time and finally walked away with more than anyone thought possible.

Then, there is Modi, the child of destiny: when there is adversity, he turns it into opportunity. When he gets lucky, he turns it into an even bigger opportunity. Secretly, he is always dreaming so big that you don’t even realize he was serious all the time. And Amit Shah, who is making his own grand plan happen by sheer force of hard work and determination.

Another such story is that of Yeddyurappa, or ‘Yediyurappa’ as he wishes to be known now. A man who never had it easy.

Seemingly, BS Yediyurappa did the impossible. Bring BJP to power in a southern state. He became Chief Minister of Karnataka in 2007 itself, but only for a week. The 2004 Assembly Election in Karnataka had thrown up a hung house with BJP as the single largest party with 79 seats, the Congress second with 65 and the JDS third with 58 seats.

Sound familiar?

But then the Congress and JDS got together (as now) and formed a government under the Chief Ministership of Dharam Singh of Congress. But that arrangement collapsed in early 2006 when H D Kumaraswamy broke away, ostensibly against the wishes of his father and joined hands with the BJP. As part of the JDS / BJP power-sharing deal, Kumaraswamy became CM, a post that he was supposed to pass on to the BJP in Oct 2007 until the end of the Assembly’s term in May 2009.

But post-dated political promises are worth nothing, as the BJP found out when H D Kumaraswamy flatly refused to transfer power in Oct 2007.

There are two quick observations to be made here. First, notice how the Congress being the bigger party with 65 seats, would never even have considered giving the CM post to the JDS which had 58. That was 2004. Compare to the Congress in 2018, which conceded the Chief Ministership to H D Kumaraswamy, no questions asked. The Congress had 80 and the JDS just 37. Tells you how weak the Congress hand has become in the past decade.

Conversely, think of the “helpless” BJP of the 2000s, which got badly played by a small regional party.

Badly betrayed by fate, Yediyurappa had to go back to the people in the election of 2008. The people listened and gave the BJP 110 seats in the 224 member assembly, just enough to form a government with the support of a couple of independents.

One must take a moment to understand how remarkable this achievement was. The BJP was still nearly absent in almost 60 seats of Karnataka’s Old Mysore Region, which means the BJP effectively ended up with a score of 110 out of 160 seats or so. This shows the vote-getting power of Yediyurappa, who swept the Northern Lingayat belt of the state.

Not many remember this now, but BJP forming a government in a southern state caused a deep emotional reaction in the ruling ‘secular’ establishment which designated Yediyurappa as “Enemy No. 1.” If you think today’s lies and exaggerations about being people being forced to say Jai Shri Ram is bad, you should have seen the pressure that the Lutyens propaganda machinery exerted on BS Yediyurappa at the time. Suffice to say that their failure to prevent a pub attack by goons in Mangalore brought more bad publicity to the BJP run state government than a series of deadly jihadi terror attacks across India at the time brought to the ruling UPA.

Then, the corruption accusations against Yediyurappa emerged. Prima facie, the amounts of money involved in these accusations were laughably small in the context of Indian politics, where prominent businessmen-politicians can put the GDP of some countries to shame. But the Lutyens propaganda machinery in Delhi had found its mark and the BJP at the time was too weak to mount a serious defence. Yediyurappa had to quit in 2011, he was arrested and the BJP collapsed up in Karnataka. The party faced a humiliating defeat in the 2013 Assembly Election, briefly even losing the main opposition spot to the JDS.  Later on, all these corruption cases were dismissed by courts.

Interestingly though, the data from the 2013 Assembly election had some hidden surprises in it. The BJP had contested the election splintered into three separate factions, the official BJP, Yediyurappa’s KJP and the BSRCP. Separately, each faction had met a humiliating defeat. But if you pooled their votes together, they were roughly in the same place as they had been in 2008.

By this time, Modi had come to take over the BJP and become the Prime Ministerial face and he recognized the opportunity in Karnataka. Yediyurappa was brought back, the party reunited under his leadership and the BJP again managed to be a clear winner in the 2014 Lok Sabha election in the state.

But for Yediyurappa, things still were not easy. He had to wait all the way till 2018 for the Assembly election to happen in Karnataka. The BJP went into the election with the same “geography problem” (absence in 60 seats of Old Mysore) and ended up with 104, tantalizingly short of the majority mark. He was invited to become CM, but the Honorable Supreme Court gave him 24 hours to prove his majority. This is roughly the same amount of time as the 2-3 weeks that H D Kumaraswamy recently had to prove his majority.

Faced with losing odds, BS Yediyurappa decided to turn it into his “Vajpayee moment.” He resigned on the floor of the House, with a promise to come back and sweep the Lok Sabha election next year.

And he succeeded and how. The BJP won 25 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka outright and a candidate supported by BJP won another, taking the NDA total to 26.  The BJP had not only won, it had overcome its “geography problem” in the state, sweeping the southernmost reaches hitherto considered impossible for the BJP. The Congress and the JDS had long been the two principal contenders in this area. In many seats, the two parties together controlled over 90% of the vote. And with the two coming together on the same side, people rejected both of them.

So now BS Yediyurappa takes oath as Chief Minister of Karnataka again. Not under ideal circumstances, mind you. And after an ugly episode of political instability that would have been best resolved by going for fresh elections. For the sake of the people of the state and the nation, we owe him best wishes for a successful tenure as Chief Minister.

Through its many ironies, setbacks, struggles and successes, the legend of Yediyurappa continues.


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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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